Nearly 20 years ago, Brian Wiseman headlined a Michigan hockey team led by the guiding hands of head coach Red Berenson and his untested battery of assistants, Mel Pearson and Billy Powers.
When Wiseman came to Ann Arbor, Michigan’s hockey program was just starting to find its feet. And his freshman campaign began an unprecedented streak — the Wolverines have not missed a single NCAA Tournament bid since 1991.
In that stretch, the unproven cast of coaches became perhaps the most renowned trio in college hockey.
Now, Wiseman is one of them. After Pearson left Ann Arbor in early May to become the head coach of his alma mater Michigan Tech, Berenson began a coaching search that ended with the hiring of Wiseman this past Thursday.
Wiseman was a four-year letterwinner, captain, All-American and Hobey Baker finalist under Berenson at Michigan during his career from 1991-94. The Wolverines reached the Frozen Four in 1992 and 1993.
“When this opportunity came up, he was the first name that came to my mind,” Berenson told the Athletic Department. “Now, we ended up with some great candidates, but Wiseman was our choice.
“He was one of the first players we had play at Michigan that wanted to come back before he left. He just loved it here.”
Wiseman tallied 248 points as a Wolverine — good for third all-time for the program — and his 164 assists rank him second in Michigan history.
He admits that always wanted to return to Ann Arbor, even before he left. After a significant minor-league career and a three-game stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Wiseman reconnected with the Michigan hockey program as an administrative assistant from 2000-02.
“I have a strong passion for Michigan and the Michigan hockey program, so when I went there as a student-athlete, it was always a place — even at that time — that I wanted to get back to in some capacity,” Wiseman said Thursday. “It started then. Once the position opened up a few weeks ago … I let (Berenson and Powers) know that I was definitely interested.”
Wiseman stepped behind the bench to serve as an assistant coach for Princeton during the 2003-04 season. He took a five-year hiatus from hockey, working as an account manager for M-I SWACO, a Houston-based oil and gas supplier.
But Wiseman had his eye on returning to the college game — and Michigan — all along. He returned to guide the Houston Aeros, an American Hockey League team he played with in the minors, as an assistant coach, leading the Aeros to the Calder Cup finals this season.
Houston dropped a 2-1 series lead and was finished off by the Binghamton Senators on Monday. Wiseman called his final game in Houston “bittersweet.”
“I felt bad for the staff here and especially the players for all the hard work they put in this year,” Wiseman said. “But at the same time, I’m thrilled and excited to get to Ann Arbor and get to work recruiting — getting out and finding the next wave of players to come through Ann Arbor.
“I can’t wait.”
Pearson — essentially a flightless bird due to a phobia of flying — was a key and successful recruiter in Michigan and Ontario, and Wiseman will be expected to maintain Michigan’s long-standing reputation of bringing in top Canadian talent. Four members of Michigan’s 2011 recruiting class are Canadian-born players.
But for Wiseman, it’s a challenge he’s willing to accept.
“This is a step,” Wiseman said. “Michigan’s been a special place for me, so this is a step and an opportunity for me to learn more about college hockey and coaching from Red and Billy and to be in a place that I truly believe in.”
Michigan’s trio of coaches’ 19 years together at the helm saw the team rise from the ashes to two-time NCAA national champions in 1996 and 1998. A third title would have been the only way it could have ended better; the Wolverines lost, 3-2, in overtime against Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA title game on Apr. 9.
But as one era ends and Pearson returns to Houghton, Mich. to revive his alma mater — the worst team in Division I hockey last season, with a 4-30-4 record — the next chapter at Michigan looks just as bright.
“This’ll be Wiseman’s time to move in, and I think he’ll make us better coaches, he’ll make our team better, and he’ll make the program better,” Berenson said.